On This Day: 6 January 1686

On this day in 1686, Captain Thomas Bowrey was at Fort St George (Madras) and was handed a letter just arrived from Hugly in Bengal. Through 332 years, we still have that immediacy because Bowrey wrote to John Evans: Yours of the19th I received this Instant.

Could he have had any comprehension that his words would be studied in this way in the future? I doubt it very much. Bowrey does not appear to have kept his papers for any sentimental reason. Even correspondence from his wife was only retained if there was business related content. For this reason, we get only glimpses of their life together.

We know so much more of incidents that happened during his working life. Today’s letter, for example, is yet another one describing the storm that forced him back to the Coromandel Coast when he was destined for Achin. We can see how he is a cautious man who would quickly cut away his main mast rather than lose his ship and, possibly, his life. Having done this, he was quick to reassure the recipient, the Reverend John Evans, that his cargo of opium was safe. Finally, he writes about business.

There is nothing else in the letter yet, we know from letters once they are both back home, that they were friends. More surprisingly still, although Evans was an East India Company chaplain, there is nothing of God’s part in the storm and other events. At a time when many of Bowrey’s correspondents used phrases such as God willing, I cannot recall his ever using such a phrase.

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